444.31 to 454.50 — Today’s miles: 10.19 (plus another mile or so off-trail to get to Hiker Heaven)
I do not sleep well and am awake before my alarm goes off at 4am. Sprout and I make quick work of our morning routines and start hiking around 4:20. Neither of us feel bad about making noise packing up camp, after the late-night noise from our neighbors.
The stars are amazing this morning. We hike through a slightly sketchy feeling (at least in the dark) area just outside of the KOA, and then begin the uphill. I’m so glad I’m doing this in the cool of the very early morning. I must be getting stronger, because I’m able to carry on conversation with Sprout the whole way up. We see A-Game and Valley camped on a ridge, a beautiful and peaceful site, and I’m a little envious — they must have slept so well last night here! Later, we pass Nemo and Ping packing up. There’s a gorgeous sunrise, as always. It feels special every time. We zip through a nice flat stretch and then tackle another uphill section. We haven’t taken any breaks except very brief stops for photos. We eat and drink as we walk. I enjoy hiking like this, at least when my body feels good.
As we get closer to the Vasquez Rocks area, we walk through a long tunnel, kind of a very large drain pipe. Sprout stops to sing for a few moments, and her voice with the acoustics of the tunnel is just magical. I stop and close my eyes for a second to listen. We head through giant rock formations and uphill to a picnic area where we stop for a quick snack break. I hear a rattlesnake sound its warning in the trees and underbrush behind us, but it’s not close enough to see, just nervous, I guess.
Soon we exit Vasquez Rocks and begin our road walk into the tiny town of Agua Dulce. This road walk is still “the trail,” though it doesn’t look like it. It will take us through town and out again. The air smells like hay here, as we pass several horse farms before reaching the town itself, which consists of a small grocery store, about three restaurants, and a couple of other shops. It’s maybe three blocks long. I’m anxious to just get right to Hiker Heaven before the day gets hotter, and we turn off the PCT for another mile down to the Saufleys’ house. It is not even 9am, so I have officially hiked my ten by ten now. (In truth I probably first accomplished this goal on McDonald’s day, but didn’t think to check my watch to be sure.)
It’s a long, slightly uphill walk on the road, and the sun is relentless. We see a very long non-rattler snake in front of one house. It’s not concerned about us and slides slowly across the sand and uphill into the bushes. I wonder aloud what sort of snake it is; “Oh, it’s a yellow-banded hill-climber, obviously,” Sprout jokes. By the time we reach the front gate I’m way overheated and feeling exhausted. But I perk up as we enter: this place is really something special.
Hiker Heaven is run by two trail angels, Donna and Jeff Saufley, who have expertly turned their property into a home for hikers. As soon as we arrive, a volunteer named Rocko greets us and gives us a tour. The Saufleys have thought of everything: there’s a charging station for phones and battery packs, a mailing station for letters and packages, big bins of loaner clothes and loaner flip-flops, and showers with sign-up sheets. Their garage is stacked with resupply boxes and other mail for hikers, and they have a laundry system in which volunteers wash your clothes and deliver them back to you in a little basket. There’s even a DIY haircut station with scissors, clippers, and a mirror. They have a couple of trailers for hikers to hang out and sleep in, but it looks like most people have opted to camp, since their property is peppered with tents as far as I can see. This place is a well-oiled machine, with several volunteers keeping things running. Sprout and I put on flip-flops and sit on the patio to sort our resupplies. I meet Donna briefly and am so grateful for what she does here that I can only manage to stammer thank you multiple times.
In the meantime, Whiz Kid has been texting. She’s staying at a trail angel’s house — well, it sounds like this person has never angeled before but is being very generous and has offered to host Sprout and me as well tonight. It’s kind of hard to decide what to do — and so bizarre to have options! We weigh the choices and although Hiker Heaven is definitely appealing and an iconic town stop, it sounds pretty great to have a bed to myself and a quieter space for the night. We hop on the hourly shuttle back into town and hang out in front of the Mexican restaurant, where we meet up with Cowboy. Haven’t seen him in a few days, he was feeling poorly and slowed down, but now he’s caught up with us again. Once Whiz Kid arrives, the gang is back together again, and we proceed to eat some really amazing huge plates of burritos. I stumble into the grocery store and buy cereal and some of that refrigerated pre-made cookie dough, since we will be in a house with a real kitchen tonight.
Now it’s time to hitch the 2.5 miles to the house. We decide to try to get a hitch for all four of us at once, but start to doubt this plan when several big trucks and SUVs pass us up. Finally a guy named Sam pulls over in a regular car, and we cram our packs into the trunk and squish in for the ride. At the house we meet Suzy and her daughter Jessica, who seem just delighted to host some smelly, dirty hikers and happily offer their shower and washer/dryer and spare rooms to us. Suzy even cooks us dinner, which we eat on the patio, overlooking the mountains. It is pretty idyllic here. Sprout is feeling run down and heads to bed early. I bake the cookies and talk to Cyn and hang out on the patio looking at the stars with Cowboy and Whiz Kid. We all feel incredibly lucky to be staying here in this beautiful place, with such kind and generous hosts. I climb into bed after 9pm, am asleep instantly, and sleep like a rock all night.
This area had a lot of signs for different plants (though it was often unclear which plant each sign referred to). After a short and very steep climb, we saw this one, which I think is Bladderpod but looks like Bladderpoo. Our third-grade sense of humor kicked in and we felt rewarded for the climb.
I shipped new shoes to myself at Hiker Heaven. To be honest, I think I could have made the old ones work through the end of my hike, but since I’m starting my final 250 miles, I thought new shoes would be a nice treat.